Eye on the Caribbean

Murder in the Caribbean - how does Haiti compare?

Posted on Friday 3 February 2006

By Charles Arthur for ’Eye on the Caribbean’, an AlterPresse service in conjunction with the Haiti Support Group

Most countries keep statistics of how many murders (or homicides) take place on their territory, and many publish a total at the end of each calendar year.

In Haiti, such statistics are hard to come by. Neither the police nor the judicial authorities have much of a presence in the rural areas of the country, where two-thirds of the population live, and even in provincial towns, if the authorities or local human rights organizations are keeping records, the results are not readily accessible.

What figures that are available have been compiled by human rights organizations based in Port-au-Prince. It is here, in the capital, afflicted by waves of political violence and violent crime over the last few years, that the vast majority of incidents involving loss of life have taken place. According to these Haitian human rights organizations, more than 1,500 people were murdered during the 20 months of March 2004-October 2005 inclusive. An average figure would suggest that approximately 75 people have been murdered each month, and that therefore approximately 900 people met violent deaths each year in 2004 and 2005.

Much has been made of the violence and loss of life in Port-au-Prince in recent times, but if we accept that the number of murders committed in the rest of the country during the last year has been relatively small - for argument’s sake, say 50 - how does an annual figure of 950 murders for a population of 8,283,000 compare with other Caribbean nations?

The first comparison must be with the neighboring Dominican Republic, a country with a slightly larger population of almost nine million that, while not regarded as a haven of tranquillity, does at least have a reputation for safety, as evidenced by the millions of foreign tourists who visit each year.

Surprisingly, whereas Haiti - generally perceived as one of the world’s most dangerous trouble spots - has a 2005 murder rate of approximately 11.5 per 100,000 inhabitants, in the Dominican Republic, where there were 2,403 violent deaths in 2005, the murder rate is 26.7 per 100,000 inhabitants.

Across the Caribbean region, authorities are struggling to cope with a growing problem of violent crime. Guyana, the former British colony on the north coast of the South American land mass with a population of just 765,000, recorded over 120 violent deaths in 2005 - a murder rate of 15.7.

Trinidad and Tobago, the oil and gas-rich twin island state in the south-east Caribbean has an even worse rate. The 384 murders committed in 2005 among a population of just under 1.1 million gives a murder rate of 35.7 - three times that in Haiti.

The difference is even more extreme when comparison is made with Jamaica. The Caribbean island with a population of 2,732,000 holds the unenviable distinction of having displaced Colombia and South Africa to become the world’s most murderous country in 2005. A record number of 1,669 murders were committed during the year, giving a murder rate of 62 per 100,000 inhabitants.